I just want to get this out of the way at the outset: yes, I am a cishet white man. It’s not my fault; if I didn’t know me, I would hate me. In fact, I do hate myself. But I want to promise you that I’m one of the good ones. I like the right things, and I hate the right things, and I do my best to make sure my opinions are not colored by my privilege, though I’m sure that does seep in from time to time in ways I don’t notice. I think that admitting that my privilege exists and affects me in ways I’m blind to is proof that I’m one of the good ones, right? I assume and hope you’re nodding in quiet agreement.
Kanye West has let a lot of us down in recent weeks. I’ve been a fan since I was a pre-teen, and when someone has been a part of your life for that long, you feel like you know them. His songs accompanied me through the end of grade school (when I hear “Slow Jamz”, I still think of one specific girl’s basement), through my early experimentation with drugs and alcohol in high school (“Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” soundtracked the summer going into my junior year), My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy blew my mind in college, and The Life of Pablo changed the way I thought about both the concept of the album and large Gothic font on t-shirts. I even listened to Yeezus, 808s and Heartbreaks, and deep cuts like “Touch the Sky” and “Good Life” a couple times! I know, it’s a bit much, but I’m both a stan and a completionist, haha.
When Kanye said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” I probably didn’t agree at the time, but now I’m like, hell yeah, man. I even pretended to forget that he said Bill Cosby was innocent, because it seemed like everyone else did so I would be OK to ignore it. Rape denial we can live with, apparently. But his recent statements and political alignments, it seems, have gone too far. I cannot stan a man whose chosen to spread easily disprovable ahistorical right-wing talking points, is cosigned by a hideous president who swept into office on a wave of xenophobia and false promises, and propagates such unforgivably libertarian ideas as chattel slavery having been a choice. Enough is enough.
Luckily, another visionary has presented himself at exactly the right time. Donald Glover, known musically as Childish Gambino, is the perfect man to fill the void: he’s black, he’s multi-talented, and he has the extreme level of self-seriousness to convince me that everything he does is Very Important. I’ve watched his new video for “This Is America” countless times, and I have no idea what it’s trying to say besides that the dad bod is here to stay, but it’s definitely trying to say something, and that’s incredibly important.
To be honest, I’ve found it easier to relate to Glover than Kanye for years now. While his earlier music hasn’t aged perfectly, his lyrics about being an Overlooked Nice Guy Genius really hit home with my when I was in my early 20s, as that was how I saw myself; I can’t say that I see much of myself in Atlanta or Awaken! My Love, but I know they’re not for people like me, so that’s also good. Glover really checks all the boxes.
Atlanta and Awaken! My Love bring me to another reason I find Glover so relatable: he seems to have a complicated relationship with his race, as do I. We both seem to have spent our formative years engaging mostly with white culture, only to have come to the conclusion later that white people are actually largely bad. For Glover, it lead to a change in the sort of art he creates; for me, it’s lead to the same (I’ll save the “tweets are art” argument for another time). That that mirrored experience — the one that makes me a very good ally (I have noted that I think white people are bad here, but that I didn’t used to, which establishes my woke bona fides) — has also lead to Glover flourishing artistically on a level he hadn’t before gives me hope for my own future.
Simply replacing my Kanye fandom with Donald Glover fandom feels like it’s not enough, though, so given that I’ve had a similar awakening regarding my gender (I used to think men were good and women be shoppin’, but now I know that men are bad and EVERYONE be shoppin’), I’m throwing Carly Rae Jepsen into the mix too, proving that I can take pop music and the women who make it seriously as artists, not that that informs this seemingly arbitrary choice at all. All hail Queen CRJ.
Why wouldn’t I go with someone like Beyonce, a black woman who is perhaps the most powerful person in the music industry on top of being a generational performer, or Janelle Monae, an black LGBTQ woman who is speaking out against Kanye’s bullshit directly and who also just released an amazing album, instead of a white woman whose songs are very good but not particularly deep and who hasn’t released an album in nearly three years? What’s with the freaking inquisition, huh? Let’s not be ridiculous. Progress often moves slowly.